You Are Now Entering…

I’ve been watching the original Twilight Zone series on Netflix, and loving it. I’m currently halfway through season 2, and last night I saw the episode entitled “Night of the Meek”. In this episode, Henry Corwin, a department store Santa, gets drunk and is fired from his job. He informs the store manager that the reason he gets drunk all the time, and especially at Christmas, is that he can’t bear to see all the suffering and sadness in the world, especially in the faces of children, and especially at Christmastime,and know that there’s nothing he can do about it. Look at this picture of him. Doesn’t he look sad?

But the night he’s fired, Henry stumbles across a magical burlap sack that seems, at first, to be full of nothing but garbage. But he soon finds that it’s full of gifts, and not just any gifts: the heart’s desire of anyone he encounters. He gives gifts to the downtrodden at a Salvation Army soup kitchen, to the manager of the department store he was just fired from, and to the neighborhood kids.

Finally the bag is empty, and he lets it drop to the ground and goes on his way… only to encounter a sleigh, some reindeer, and an elf who says to him, “We’ve been waiting for you!” Henry’s own wish — that he could be the real life Santa Claus to give gifts for everyone — has come true.

I personally think that “Night of the Meek” is one of the better episodes that Serling himself (who was born on Christmas Day) wrote, and it actually made me a little bit sniffly. When I read a book in 2003 called The American Fantasy Tradition, I was more than a little surprised to see that Rod Serling was not mentioned at all.

Reams and reams have been written about The Twilight Zone and its impact on American pop culture (especially in speculative fiction), and I won’t bother going into that here. For now, I’ll just say that the show definitely impacted my own creative sensibilities. Over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been watching this show, I find myself feeling more inspired to work on my own fiction, and giving it more subtle twists and bits than I normally would be include toward. No one has ever accused me of being a very subtle writer, so perhaps binge-watching The Twilight Zone will help change that.

If you want to buy me something for Christmas or my birthday or just for the heck of it, might I suggest Everything I Need to Know I Learned in the Twilight Zone: A Fifth-Dimension Guide to Life by Mark Dawidziak? I heard the author interviewed on a podcast I regularly listen to and this sounds like a fun book.


A couple of administrative notes:

  1. As you know, I no longer cross-post to Livejournal. Now, I cross-post to Dreamwidth, where my username is underpope2.
  2. I’ve applied a new theme to my blog. What do you think? Is it pretty? Ugly? Pretty ugly? I think it needs some tweaks.
  3. Finally, I’ve moved some of the free stories off my writing page and onto their own page at My Monstrous Universe. Enjoy!

 

Today’s Secret Word Is…

Today’s secret word is antepenultimate!

 

It will be defined in the antepenultimate paragraph of this blog entry. And this word has probably displaced defenestrate (which, of course, means to throw someone or something out of a window) as my favorite word.

Today, this blog entry is just about some snippets that happen to be floating in my brain. For example: In my opinion, the Terminator franchise ended with Terminator 2: Judgement Day. There was no need for any other films after that one. It wrapped up all the various threads and plot points and so on, and presented us with a nice clean storyline that worked on plenty of levels. It was a solid action story, but it also had depth of theme and characterization. The rest of the movies are just schlock cashing in on the name of the franchise.

That said, I did really enjoy the Terminator TV series: Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.That show was well-written and executed, and deftly played with themes of time travel, family, and so on. It’s a shame that the WGA strike in 2007/2008 (am I right about the dates?) killed the show before it really got a chance to get going.

Same with the Alien franchise. Alien was a solid horror movie; Aliens was a solid action movie. Both are fine films. The rest of the films in the series are junk. Even Prometheus, which, I admit, was beautiful to watch, especially in 3D. I haven’t even bothered watching Alien: Covenant, though I might if it ends up free on Amazon Prime or Netflix. This video here demonstrates precisely why Prometheus was such an awful film:

Not all movies have to have thematic depth or solid characterizations to be good fun, of course. The 2014 Godzilla film was pretty much nothing but an action movie featuring giant monsters duking it out over the Bay Area. Characterization was kept to a minimum. It didn’t really hit the right thematic notes that the 1954 Gojira film had; that film was more about the US atomic attacks on Japan than about the monster itself. I enjoyed the 2014 Godzilla but I struggled with its purpose beyond the aforementioned monsters slugging it out.

The next American Godzilla film, Godzilla: King of Monsters, is, I believe, set to be released in 2019. Again, it will probably be light on character and theme, but heavy on CGI monsters battling each other.

Antepenultimate means “the third from the last”. As in, this is the third-from-last paragraph of the blog entry. Or, more precisely, “before the penultimate”.

And this entry is the penultimate paragraph; that is to say, second-to-last. I read a novel many years ago by Phillip K. Dick called The Penultimate Truth and it, like everything else Dick wrote, it was odd and bizarre and has stuck with me ever since I read it as a freshman at UC Davis. Come to think of it, this might have been one of the books that drove me toward getting a philosophy degree.

And this is the ultimate paragraph; that is to say, the final one. I hoped you enjoyed it.


The Penultimate Truth

by Philip K. Dick [Mariner Books]
Rank/Rating: 226111/-
Price: -

Now in my Head

Right now, I’m on a social media hiatus (with momentary lapses to announce new blog posts, of course), because I found that going on to Twitter was getting more and more upsetting and going on to Facebook was getting frustrating. I don’t like feeling upset and frustrated. Of course, I’ve felt that way since the 2016 election, but at least I can take some breaks where I can. I still have my blog, though, and since I control all content here, I feel less frustrated (though perhaps writer’s block counts). And I ask that if you feel compelled to comment about this post, please do so here rather than on Twitter or Facebook, because I won’t see those.

As for what’s going on right now, I’m still sad about B’s passing. I encountered a number of cousins I hadn’t seen for years, as well as a number of first cousins, once removed, that I hadn’t known existed. That was a nice thing, even though it was under less-than-pleasant circumstances.

I’m still taking that Data Science certification series on Coursera, but it’s only been over the past week or so that I’ve been able to use some of what I’ve learning at work. Specifically, I was able to use the R programming language in conjunction with the SQLite3 command line interface to convert large JSON files to simple SQLite databases. That may be incomprehensible to you, but when I was able to pull it off, I felt great joy, a serious sense of accomplishment. It was great.

I finished up that “Question Reality” class I was taking through edX. My final score was 90%. I wanted higher, but will be happy with that. Now I’m taking a self-paced course called “Climate Change: The Science”, which is, of course, about the science of climate change. It’s an exhilarating, but also depressing, course.

But the thing that’s really stomping through my brain right now are kaiju: giant monsters, like Godzilla or Mothra or Cloverfield. The word kaiju is Japanese, and means “strange creature” (for years I ran a webzine called Daikaijuzine, another Japanese word that means “giant strange creature”).  I’ve always had a soft spot for Godzilla. When I saw Godzilla Vs. Hedorah (also known as Godzilla Vs. the Smog Monster) as a kid in the early 70s, it terrified the snot out of me. The issues of Daikaijuzine were all named after various monsters in the Godzilla mythos.

But at Westercon I picked up this book, an anthology chock-full of giant monster stories. It’s a fun book, and while some of the stories are mediocre, most of them are pretty fun. And now ideas have been churning in my brain. I had an idea for a kaiju story set in Antarctica, but as the days have gone on, more plot elements and character moments have emerged and now the idea is for a novel instead of a short story. I’ve decided that this is going to be my NaNoWriMo project for this year. I also have an idea for a kaiju short story which I am determined will remain a short story; it should be short, and I hope I can get a first draft ready for the next meeting of my writers’ group.

And so that’s what’s going on my in my head right now. I am hoping to post an entry to this blog every Thursday, but most entries will probably be minor ones like this instead of well-thought-out missives or vague ponderings about life and death and grief (though the novel I’m working on, Padma, is about exactly those themes). Please enjoy these entries. As Douglas Adams wrote in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, “Share and Enjoy.”

Monsoon Season

I was not prepared for monsoon season in Arizona. I’m not built to withstand hot weather, especially when it is also damp and muggy and windy. In Sacramento, where the heat is appropriately dry, you sweat and your sweat evaporates and cools you, doing what sweat is supposed to do. But during a monsoon, nothing wicks away the sweat. It sticks to you and makes you feel even hotter.

I was in Arizona for my cousin B’s memorial. B had passed away the previous week after a decades-long bout with a mitochondrial disorder called Leigh’s Syndrome. I hadn’t seen her over fifteen years, though I’d talked with her on the phone sometimes, and always sent her a gift for her birthday (a stuffed animal, usually, or a shirt with a Disney character or boy band depicted on it). But it was a hassle to get out to Arizona where she lived with my aunt and uncle, so I never got around to it.

Even though she was a week gone, I hadn’t really experienced my own moment of grief until the ride from my family’s hotel to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I had thought to myself that I was looking forward to seeing family I hadn’t seen in over a decade. I thought to myself, I was really looking forward to seeing B, who I knew would have a big smile and hug for me. And that’s when I really had my “Oh shit, she’s gone” moment, and I really knew that I would never see her again.

The music director of the Presbyterian church where the memorial service was held chose “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” as the prelude, which brought a smile to everyone’s face. As the remembrances went on, I got a picture of my cousin as a person who, despite her challenges, was loving and kind and outspoken and occasionally grumpy, but who gave wonderful hugs and usually had a smile on her face. She loved the Care Bears, she loved boy bands, she loved her menagerie of stuffed animals (who each had their own name and their own unique personality, and who all sometimes got into trouble). She loved her parents. She loved her cat, Maggie, who loved her in return.

I could have spoken during the memorial, could have added my own remembrance, but I didn’t. I didn’t trust my voice to stay steady. A lump was forming in my throat. I wanted to weep; I wasn’t sad for B, but for those who loved her. I was sad for her mother, who wouldn’t have her company anymore. I was especially sad for Maggie, who would never again get to cuddle with B, and who wouldn’t understand why (cats, I am convinced, feel grief and miss the people they choose to give their love to).

I Googled Leigh Syndrome when I got back to my hotel room. I learned that it’s also called “subacute necrotizing encephalomyelopathy”, which sounds unpleasant. And it is. The symptoms listed in the Wikipedia article aren’t exactly like the ones that B seemed to experience, but, then, disease descriptions are often like that. Every individual experiences a disease in their own unique way.

Just like grief.

It was in the hotel room that monsoon season really hit, and I sat on the bed and cried.

The Writing Life

This is just a brief post. Its purpose is to let you know what I’m working on, writing-wise, right now, so that you can help keep me accountable. It’s also meant to help me clarify exactly what I’m working on and my self-imposed deadlines. So here goes.

NovelsPadma. I plan on finishing up the first draft by September so that I can throw it at some beta and sensitivity readers.

Stories:

  • “The B.I.M.” This is the story I promised Jennifer for her birthday. I was planning on having it finished by her birthday, which was May 30, but I missed that deadline. So now I’m planning on finishing it by the 15th of June.
  • “A Pine Romance”. I need to make some fundamental changes to this one to clarify the main character’s emotional journey. No problem, right? Deadline is the end of July, so I can toss it around to various markets.

And that’s it!


A wee administrative note: This is the very last post that I will be cross-posting to LiveJournal. The Russian owners of that site are well within their rights to set the Terms and Conditions to whatever they want, but their homophobic stance convinces me that I just can’t anymore. I’m planning on setting up a DreamWidth account, so you’ll be able to follow me there.

 

I Wrote a Mission Statement!

I wrote a mission statement for my fiction writing. And here it is:

Richard writes fiction in which ordinary people are thrown into extraordinary circumstances in order to witness the results. From horror to comedy, his stories and novels seek to entertain, inspire, enlighten, and amuse.

Of course,  as a creative person, I’m supposed to eschew mission statements at every possible opportunity. Too corporate. Too business. Too stifling. Meaningless. Etc.

And yes, it’s true that a poorly-written mission statement can be restrictive and stifling, let alone meaningless and pointless. But I think this is a pretty good one. It sits in front of me and makes me think about the kind of writing I want to do, and reflects the writing I have done so far. I also think it will help me write better fiction.

And I’m not the only writer who’s created a wee mission statement for themselves. Some writers come up with a mission statement for every short story and novel that they write. That seems a bit excessive to me, but if it works for them, then I endorse it.

Thoughts? Feedback? All are welcome.


My idea to write a fiction writing mission statement came about primarily because I’ve been trying to delve into writing non-fiction, particularly science writing, and not having much luck doing so. I’ve been wanting to write articles and stories (and even books!) that are interesting, informative, culturally-relevant, and so on, without being pretentious or  insulting. I want them to be engaging and entertaining and accessible and so on. It seems to me that science is under attack under the current administration, and effective science communication can be a form of resistance.

I figured a mission statement would help me focus, but writing one has been difficult. This is all I what I have so far. It’s inelegant and uninspiring:

I write science stories and articles which are accessible, engaging, and entertaining, which incorporate cultural relevance and history and art and philosophy, as well as respect for the readers’ intelligence. The point is not to disparage or insult misstatements and mistaken ideas, but to engage and enlighten.

I have a phone call this weekend with someone who might be able to help me focus and get me started on this route.


I know that neither of these are “true” mission statements, because they weren’t hashed out by a committee with no connection to the people it affects the most, and I didn’t fight with myself over the font and presentation for most of the long meeting I held writing them.

But… I think they just might help. If not, I’ll just toss ’em.

Things I’m Putting Into My Head

I miss college. For the few who don’t know, I went to UC Davis, where I studied Philosophy. Now, to get your degree in Philosophy, you need to get — at least at the time that I graduated — 80 units total of Philosophy courses. You needed a minimum of 124 units to graduate from the University. And the University sort of forced you to graduate if you accumulated more than 225 units.

I graduated with 96 units in Philosophy, and 224.5 units altogether. This means that the majority of the classes I took in college were all over the board: religious studies, sociology, psychology, oceanography, botany, chemistry, and so on. Really, I had no idea what I was doing. I would just go through the catalog each quarter and sign up for any course that looked interesting with no rhyme or reason, just curiosity. I had no plan, just overall curiosity. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know, but I think that curiosity, in general, is a good quality to have.

But I do miss learning in some sort of structured environment. So I’ve signed up for some online courses. The courses I’m taking now are:

  1. Getting and Cleaning Data, course three of the Data Science Specialization at Coursera. Why am I taking a Data Science specialization at Coursera? I’m not entirely sure. I’m enjoying it, but I’m finding it a bit overwhelming. The last course focused on the R programming language, which is used to analyze data and statistical information. Statistics was a hard course for me in college.
  2. Question Reality! Science, Philosophy and the Search for Meaning. This is a fascinating class. A lot of the material is stuff that I already know, having taken classes in it in college or just through reading widely in a bunch of different areas, but I’m still learning. I’m enjoying this class. I’m a week behind, so this week I’m trying to catch up, but other than that I’m having fun. I will say, though, that the interface at EdX is clunky and not very easy to use.
  3. Finally, I’m brushing up my Spanish skills using Duolingo. I took Spanish for three years during high school with a great teacher, but since I didn’t use it very much, I got rusty. I would try to use my Spanish from time to time, but never with much luck (one Spanish speaker I was trying to talk to asked me, in English, “What are you trying to say?”). But Duolingo is making me feel a bit more confident in my skill.

That’s a lot to deal with, especially considering that I’m working full-time and also writing regularly. I’m keeping track of it all and also what I’m doing with a combination of Remember the Milk and Habitica. The former keeps me organized, the latter keeps me on track. I am by no means a power user of either tool, but I’m getting the hang of them. Slowly but surely.

Slowly. But. Surely.

On another note, I’ve set myself a schedule of posting to this blog at least once a week. I know I’ve said that before, but this time I really mean it. I’ve even put it down on my Remember the Milk task manager.